Match of the Round
Kahibah v Toronto Awaba
Kahibah Oval, 3pm
Kahibah host Toronto Awaba on Saturday with both sides potentially putting their finals hopes on the line.
The sixth-placed Rams know a win is almost essential if they are to play finals football, with Kahibah two points behind Toronto Awaba heading into the final three rounds.
The Stags though are also under pressure. They have a bye in round 15, meaning they will be unable to accrue points in the final round. A loss to Kahibah would put Toronto Awaba behind the Rams with two rounds remaining but with the Stags to only play once.
It seems a lifetime ago, but the sides met six months ago before the COVID-19 suspension of football. Toronto Awaba led 3-0 at half-time in their round two fixture, only for Kahibah to secure an incredible 3-3 draw.
Much has changed since then, with Toronto Awaba adding former Newcastle Jets A-League player Nick Cowburn and former Weston premiership-winning midfielder Rob Macbeth to their side.
The additions have helped the Stags become one of the form teams of the competition in recent weeks. Toronto Awaba won four matches in a row to climb into premiership contention before their 4-1 defeat to leaders New Lambton last weekend.
Kahibah have overcome a mid-season slump with wins over Cessnock City and Thornton in the last month to put themselves back in finals contention, though the Rams were left to rue not securing all three points against West Wallsend last weekend as the Bluebells came from behind twice to snatch a draw.
New Lambton v Wallsend
Alder Park, Saturday 2.30pm
New Lambton coach Tom Davies believes avoiding complacency will be the key as the Eagles host struggling Wallsend on Saturday.
The Red Devils travel to Alder Park looking for an upset win that would give them a chance of climbing off the bottom of the table before the end of the regular season.
But New Lambton are unlikely to be in a charitable mood. The Eagles finally climbed back to the top of the NEWFM Northern League One table last weekend thanks to their impressive 4-1 win over in-form Toronto Awaba.
A heavy schedule and some mixed results had seen New Lambton surrender the competition lead but, now that it is theirs again with only three rounds remaining, Davies is adamant his side will not be handing it back without a fight.
“I think a few clubs had some trouble with a heavy schedule and that was definitely the case for us,” Davies said.
“It made it difficult in terms of the way we like to play with a high tempo. Overall I think the boys applied themselves really well, we just didn’t get the results. A few things or a key moment went against us.
“But we’ve remained positive and it’s up to us now to keep playing week to week and remain focused.
“We’re looking at what we can improve on but the big positive for me has been that we’ve continued to play our style. We’ve continued to work on how we want to play and stuck by our key principles.
“We’ve created more goalscoring opportunities in the last few weeks. We were on a bit of a roll and having a bit of success and you could see teams start to approach playing us differently. We talked about that as a group and we’ve responded well.
“We’re a young group so as well as continuing to work on our tactical game we’ve had to work on the mental side and that has really helped us.”
New Lambton handed Wallsend a 6-0 hammering when the sides met at The Gardens in round two before the COVID-19 suspension of football.
But Davies said that result would count for little come Saturday as they look to remain clear of Cooks Hill United and Singleton who lead the chasing pack.
“[Not letting complacency creep in] is the key and has been for this year,” Davies said.
“New Lambton has got into some good positions the last few years but consistency has been [a key issue] and being mentally focused for every game.
“We’ll make sure we try to stick to the way we want to play. Another home game is always good, it’s nice to get a couple in a row.
“Hopefully we keep that focus and go and get the result.”
Singleton v West Wallsend
Howe Park, Saturday 2.30pm
Singleton will look to keep up the pressure on leaders New Lambton when they host West Wallsend on Saturday.
The Strikers slipped from the top of the table when they were held to a scoreless draw at home to Cessnock City last weekend.
West Wallsend showed great resilience to come from behind twice to salvage a point against Kahibah last time out, though the Bluebells face an uphill battle to make the finals.
Geoff Blomfield’s side are seventh, three points outside the top five with three rounds to play. Though West Wallsend have a bye in the penultimate round, meaning they would need to win their final two games and hope a number of results elsewhere go their way.
The teams played out a goalless draw when they met in round two with a similar result likely to be fatal to their respective ambitions.
Thornton v Belmont Swansea United
Thornton Park, Saturday 3.30pm
Belmont Swansea United will look to bounce back when they travel to Thornton Park to face Thornton on Saturday.
BelSwans fell to a 1-0 defeat to rivals Cooks Hill United last weekend, a result that damaged their premiership hopes.
Mick Stafford’s side are now four points behind leaders New Lambton having slipped to fourth. But a win over the Redbacks would keep them in the hunt for a top three finish.
Thornton will look to cause an upset that could see them guaranteed to avoid a last-placed finish. A win could see them go six points clear of Wallsend with two rounds remaining, with the Redbacks also boosted by a superior goal difference.
Thornton showed they had what it takes to match it with the 2019 champions when the sides met in round two, with BelSwans scoring two late goals to secure a 2-1 win at Blacksmiths Oval prior to the COVID-19 suspension.
South Cardiff v Cooks Hill United
Ulinga Oval, Sunday 3.20pm
Cooks Hill United coach Doug West says his side will be out to avoid the complacency that had previously hampered their campaign when they take on South Cardiff on Sunday.
The 2019 premiers travel to Ulinga Oval looking to keep up the pressure on leaders New Lambton. Cooks Hill are one point behind the Eagles in second, with a win over South Cardiff to keep them in the premiership hunt.
Cooks Hill have been one of the form teams of the competition in recent weeks, winning their last four games in a row and five of their last six.
West’s experienced squad overcame a tough schedule of five games in 16 days to repair much of the damage from their inconsistent start to the season and catapult themselves into a chance of securing a fourth consecutive premiership.
“Mathematically we’re in contention, no doubt,” West said.
“There’s a lot of positive feeling around the club at the moment thanks to that run [of form]. We know consistency was a problem in the first half of the season. But we’ve really focused on that in the last five games since Toronto where we got convincingly beaten.
“We’re definitely in contention. We’re not setting our sights too high. We’ve got a thin, tired squad at the moment so it’s about pulling them together.”
Cooks Hill survived a Belmont Swansea United bombardment in the final 20 minutes of their game on Sunday, with the reigning premiers showing great resilience to hold on and secure a vital 1-0 win over their rivals.
West is wary of South Cardiff despite his own side’s impressive form, with the Gunners having secured a 2-1 win over Cooks Hill when the teams met in March.
“I think complacency put us in the position we were in in the first place, chasing the leaders from a long way back,” West said.
“We dropped points against South Cardiff in the first round and I know the boys are up for turning it around.
“I think they recognised the way we played [against South Cardiff] and also against [Singleton] in the first round as well. We were complacent and we got punished. The boys are very keen to not let that happen again.
“If we don’t [beat South Cardiff] that win over BelSwans will be irrelevant.”
The Gunners are coming off a morale-boosting 4-0 thrashing of Wallsend last weekend, with ninth-placed South Cardiff looking to climb the table in the final three rounds.